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Tradition of tree honoring service members continues in Luzerne County

A tree stands tall for those who cannot be home for the holidays. Newswatch 16's Chelsea Strub shows us the dedication in Edwardsville.

EDWARDSVILLE, Pa. — Since 2013, an evergreen tree at Memorial Park in Edwardsville has been dedicated to military service members who can't be home for the holidays.

"It's those that are physically not capable because they passed away, whether it be from combat or suicide, or also the ones that just simply can't afford to make it home or overseas during the time of the holidays," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Hunter, U.S. Marine Corps.

Lance Cpl. Hunter was the inspiration behind the Edwardsville Warrior Tree project that was started by his mother, Karen Declet.

"It's the first time I had an opportunity where I was like, I'm actually having some type of impact with the people around me," Hunter said. "When this started, I was actually in Afghanistan from 2013, 2014."

"When you get a chance to come back home, it's really a big deal. To be able to have that opportunity that you missed it, you don't realize you're missing it until you come back home," he added.

"That's to show these people who don't get a chance to get home for Christmas. Here we are. We're thinking about you," Ceferino Declet said.

The stars on the tree were painted by elementary school students. On the back of each one is a solid color representing a reason someone may not be home for the holidays.

The Declets tell Newswatch 16 that every year, the community involvement for the Edwardsville Warrior Tree gets bigger and bigger. And now people have started stopping by and putting up other ornaments in addition to the stars, which is something they encourage, along with the addition of photos.

"We actually wish more people would drop off more photos. Because again, this is a community tree, so we want this community of Edwardsville and all — and I mean all — of northeastern Pennsylvania to feel included."

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